Historiography is the history of history. We are becoming accustomed to the notion that the recording of history is an intellectual battle with winners and losers. Here is an extremely brief note on how the history of the "Cause" developed over time:

With a few notable exceptions, the historiography considering the causes of the war consistently identified slavery as the main artery of conflict. That is, the issues of Constitutionalism, sectionalism, state rights, et al revolved around slavery and drew their emotional power from slavery. To some extent the debate over causation mirrored the sectional conflict and even the course of the actual war—with the Southern revisionism eventually succumbing to the numerical superiority of northern scholarship.

Northern explanations of the hostilities, from the near-contemporaneous account written by Henry Wilson to the initial scholarly discussion offered by turn-of-the-century historian James Ford Rhodes to the mid-century work of Allan Nevins and Arthur Schlesinger, revolve around the immorality of slavery. Transplanted Westerners David M. Potter, Don Fehrenbacher and Kenneth Stampp provided later affirmations of the centrality of slavery.

The three great twentieth-century divergent explanations occurred during the first fifty years. The Dunning School, named after a pioneer historian from Columbia University, unleashed a swell of Southern and Midwestern scholars, U.B. Phillips and William E. Dodd foremost among them, who defined the system of slavery as benign and justified the South’s actions leading to the war.

After the Dunning heyday of the 1920s, the second wave of revisionists declared that a “blundering generation” of politicians mishandled the sectional crisis of the 1850s. The post-World War I generation of historians accused the ante bellum generation of politicians of stumbling into a devastating war that could have been avoided through skillful statesmanship. The underlying premise, of course, was that slavery was not something over which a nation should have fought a civil war.

The other great threat to the “primacy of slavery” explanation came from the Charles and Mary Beard thesis, also offered during the 1920s, in which the Progressive historians pronounced the war to be the “Second American Revolution,” the product of economic transformation, and the ultimate triumph of capitalism over agrarianism. While economic determinism captured the imagination of radical historians and enjoyed a brief revival among some prominent Marxist historians during the 1960s and 1970s, in the end, even Beard himself repudiated this notion.